My earliest memories of Candlestick are formative ones. Like any Bay Area kid who cut her baseball teeth on Giants games at the notoriously frigid stadium, I thought every family prepared for sporting events by piling on 17 strategic layers and stuffing their car full of sleeping bags and other accoutrements that could double as equipment for scaling Mount Kilimanjaro.
This has been, of course, most of the park’s (limited) charm: By default, it’s for die-hards only — very few folks want to deal with that traffic and that wind and that fog and that everything else just to sit at the bar and not pay attention to a game — because the place ain’t easy to love. Like so many ex-boyfriends throughout history, it’s been cold, distant, difficult to reach. And, like all great exes, Candlestick needed one last night.
Paul McCartney, who bound around the stadium’s stage for nearly three straight hours last night [Aug. 14], clad in black dad jeans, a white collared shirt, and red-and-black-striped suspenders, making silly faces, reading from the signs in the front row, punctuating the ends of songs with a double thumbs-up, and giving the people what they wanted by way of Beatles anecdotes as stage banter, filled that sentimental need in a way it’s difficult to imagine anyone else pulling off.
“I don’t know if you know this, but the Beatles played our last gig at Candlestick,” Sir Paul said casually, about an hour into the set, after an energetic, check-your-pulse-if-you-don’t-find-this-uplifting rendition of “We Can Work It Out,” to a roaring crowd of people from all over the world who definitely did know that. “We got so pissed off we never did it again.”
“No, there are some great memories here,” he continued, “and it’s sad to see the old place closing down. But we’re gonna close it down in style.”
And then he led the entire stadium in a sing-along of “And I Love Her,” turning his back to the crowd and shaking his butt during the sweet, brief guitar solo.
If you were among the 44,000 people lucky enough to actually make it inside the park (in a timely illustration of one reason the Niners are departing for greener pastures, as many as 6000 frustrated ticket-holders reportedly either turned around and went home after being stuck in traffic for four hours or didn’t get in until nearly 11pm, as the stadium’s one remaining parking lot took on Lord of the Flies undertones), you were treated to what you’d been promised: a 72-year-old living legend — a cliche, but it applies in this instance — reminding you exactly why he’s a legend, and also kind of making you wonder what he’s on that he has this much energy at 72. Vegetarianism?
With a backing band of four — a lead electric guitarist, a bassist, a keyboard player who took care of strings, horns, and all other instrumentation with the somewhat disorienting press of a key, and the super-animated Abe Loboriel Jr. on the drums (who by all appearances was snatched from a Sublime cover band but has in fact toured with McCartney for 13 years) — each of them singing their asses off, as you can only imagine you would do if given the responsibility of filling in for John Lennon and George Harrison on harmonies that used to make girls literally pass out — Sir Paul led a dialed-in, bombastic rock ‘n’ roll show last night.
And it was a rock ‘n’ roll show, from the show-opener of “Eight Days a Week” to the show-ender (rather, second encore-ender) medley of “Carry That Weight,” “You Never Give Me Your Money,” and “The End,” aka a condensed version of the ending suite from side two of Abbey Road. In between, there was “Paperback Writer,” with McCartney playing the same guitar he used on the original record (one of at least a dozen he played over the course of the night). There was “All My Lovin’,” there was “Lady Madonna.” There was a story about Jimi Hendrix learning Sgt. Pepper’s within two days after it was released in 1967, but using so much whammy bar on it when he played in London that his guitar was then miserably out of tune, and he had to ask Eric Clapton, who was in the crowd, to come tune it for him.
There was “Eleanor Rigby” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” and “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “Yesterday,” and “Back In the USSR,” and a stadium full of gleeful adults who pay their taxes and run large companies and get the senior discount at the movies singing their faces off to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and the Look at meeeee part of “All Together Now.” (“One of my most serious compositions,” McCartney allowed at that one’s conclusion). There was a ukulele-led “Something” as a tribute to George Harrison. There were unreleased black-and-white photos of the Beatles at Candlestick in 1966 projected behind him as McCartney jumped into the last song they performed that night nearly 50 years ago, “Long Tall Sally.”
He did a handful of Wings songs, prefacing each one with a smirking, self-indulgent “Wings” hand signal. Were they fine? Sure, they were fine. Are they Beatles songs? They are not Beatles songs. They are not “Blackbird,” which he played solo in a spotlight, on top of an elevated portion of the stage (after an introduction that stopped disappointingly short of getting political when he mentioned being inspired by the Civil Rights movement, and terrible things happening “in the Southern part of the United States”). Nor were they “Maybe I’m Amazed,” off his 1970 solo album, which would have sent chills down spines even without the standard “I wrote this for Linda” opening. Songs off the new record (New) played well, with McCartney perched behind a psychedelic rainbow-colored piano: the title track, the jumpy keys-driven “Queenie Eye,” and “Everybody Out There,” from which the “Out There” tour draws its name. Huge-screen videos of Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp signing the lyrics during “My Valentine” were, well, huge-screen videos of Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp. No complaints.
The highlights, though? You could point to the the fireworks that shot out of the stadium and the five-foot flames that burst forth from the front of the stage on the first chorus of a super-heavy “Live and Let Die” — though I couldn’t help but think it all would have been cooler if they actually began demolition on the park during that song, maybe letting Paul take the first swing of the sledgehammer?
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But no. The highlight was — look, this was a pretty awful week to be a person who reads the news. There are awful things happening in Ferguson, Missouri; there are awful images still pouring out of the Middle East; and one of the world’s most reliably uplifting, warm-hearted class clowns decided he didn’t want the job anymore. We want comfort food at times like these. We want things that we know and love to keep on being the way we know and love them.
You know what’s more reassuring than tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich? Paul McCartney singing “Hey Jude” to an entire stadium as a campfire lullaby. Couples in their 70s and 80s with their arms around each other, remembering, looking like they don’t mind the cold one bit. The knowledge that the sight and sound of 44,000 humans of all ages all holding their stupid iPhone lights and singing along to a Beatles song nearly involuntarily, because the melodies are in their bodies, because of the way Beatles songs have transcended the pop canon and are now seemingly passed down to children through DNA or the public water supply, apparently has the power to make you feel like maybe humanity isn’t doomed after all.
We needed that this week. And for Candlestick, it was one hell of a one last time.
— Tailgaters: Well-off middle-aged people in heels and/or NorthFace jackets drinking white wine and microbrews outside of their luxury SUVs in the nearby business park parking lots.
— His set list was not all that different from the one he played exactly a year ago at Outside Lands, several people have noted. None of these people have seemed especially upset by that.
— Shout-out to the people “looting” on their way out (trying to tear a “wine bar” sign off a second-story concrete wall).
— Paul McCartney is starting to look a little like a grandma, yes. But his skin is eerily smooth and there was no denying his energy last night. I do wish he would ditch the hair dye.